Journeys End by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Twelve

Stirlingshire, Scotland, summer of 1779

 

 

            Rachel was standing just inside the door with her back to him.  The pale light streaming through the tall open windows on either side cast her slender figure into silhouette.  Above her the central tower of the garden-house rose, its’ whimsical shape backed by the face of the risen moon.  His father had built it for his stepmother some years before.  At the time it had caused consternation among the neighbors.  Some had even whispered that the fourth Earl of Dunsmore had gone mad.  Mingo smiled.  Perhaps he had.  Such an extravagant gesture hardly seemed to fit with the image of the stern, duty-bound man he remembered from his brief youth in England.  Some called it the Pineapple House and others, Dunsmore’s Folly.  It was really an amazing feat of architecture; a forty-five foot high garden-house wrought of stone in a remarkably accurate rendering of the rare fruit, with each of the gently curving leaves being drained separately in order to prevent frost damage to the delicate masonry.  It had attached to it two hothouses which his father kept filled with exotic blossoms and rare fruits.  Yet none was so rare as the one hesitating near its door tonight.  Mingo stepped into the shaded space and spoke her name, and Rachel turned to greet him.

            She was in tears.

            “Rachel, what is it?  Has something happened?”

            Rachel shook her head.  Then she struck away the tears as if angered by the fact that she had let him see.  As she did, her wound caused her to wince.  He noticed that she was dressed in one of her own gowns now.  Its lower bodice revealed the bandage on her shoulder. 

            “Then why are you crying?” he asked.

            Rachel hesitated.  “Did you mean it, when you said that wherever you ended, I would be with you?”

            He nodded as he took a step toward her.  “Yes.”

            That seemed to make her relax a little.  “I thought....  I heard you say....”  Rachel’s blue eyes blinked.  “Did you not tell your father a short time ago that you intended to go back to America with Mrs. Boone?”

            Mingo frowned.  “You heard?”

            “Yes.  Was I not to have?”

            “No.  No.  Come here.  Please.  Let me explain.”  As he held out his hand, she took hold of it.  Mingo drew her toward one of the stone benches that jutted from the greenhouse wall.  She sat on it beside him  “I did tell Father that I meant to go back— ”

            “Alone?”

            He drew a breath.  “I think it would be for the best.  I am a wanted man—in two countries.  I need to clear my name.  If I don’t— ”

            “I can go with you.”

            “It isn’t safe, Rachel.  I will not put you in danger again.”

            “I am in danger every day,” she countered quickly.  “Here as well.  You cannot change that.”

            Mingo released her hand and rose to his feet.  He crossed the tiles to one of the walls where the pineapples grew, and stared at the strange fruits.  “I know that.  And I am the cause of that danger.  I— ”

            Rachel interrupted him.  “I never realized you had such a monstrous ego, Mr. Murray.”

            Mingo pivoted toward her.  “What?”

            “You must have a very large ego indeed if you think you are the cause of all my troubles,” Rachel snapped. “Do you think I need you to be in harm’s way?  I am quite capable of placing myself there without you.  Did you grow up in France?  Are you known to have sent letters to Adrienne Du Motier?  Were you almost imprisoned for acting as an intermediary between the Americans and the French?  I don’t seem to recall your being here when all that happened.”

            Mingo laughed and executed a brief bow.  “My apologies, Miss Cornell.  You are quite right.  What a terrible influence you have been.  No wonder I have found myself in so much trouble.  And here all along Daniel and Rebecca thought it had to do with my lack of diplomatic skills.”  That brought a smile to her lips.  She held out her hand and beckoned him to return to her side. As he did, he added softly, “Still, I don’t know.  Taking you back with me....”

            “Wherever you go, I will go.  Nothing could be worse than being parted from you again.”

            Mingo studied her face.  The shadow of pain had passed from it.  In the few days they had resided at the manor, her wound had almost healed.  She looked just like the trusting sixteen-year-old girl he had deserted a lifetime before.  He reached out and touched her cheek.  “Do you remember the night that I went away?”

            Her breath caught.  A tear trailed down her cheek.  “Yes.  How could I forget?”

            “We met in the bower behind Hugh’s house.  I told you that I had to leave.”

            “Yes.  Because of ‘family’, you said.  Your mother’s family.”

            “Do you remember what you asked me then?”

            Another tear followed the first, unchecked.  “ Yes.  I asked, ‘When will I see you again?’ ”

            “And I answered, ‘I will surprise you, you will not have seen me and then suddenly—one day—there I will be.’”  Mingo caught her fingers in his own as a sob broke from her.  He waited as she regained her composure and then planted a kiss on the top of her hands.  “And here I am.  Never to parted again.”

            “You promise?”

            “I promise.”  He smiled and then, after a second, dropped onto one knee. 

Rachel frowned as he did so.  “Kerr?  What are you doing?”

Mingo drew a breath and held it.  There it was: the choice.  Was he Kerr?  Or Cara-Mingo?  Would he take her back with him to the wilderness, to the life he had made for himself in America, to a log cabin—or worse, to a mud and branch lodge?  Would she be his frontier wife?  Or the wife of a Cherokee warrior?  Or would he stay here, in the Old World, and become the man he had thought he could never be.

“Kerr?”

Slowly, he began to speak.  “Rachel, I love you.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  I don’t care where.  Here or in America, it matters little.  Wherever we can find safety and peace.  Wherever we can be together.  Do you agree?”

“Of course, I do, silly.”  She smiled as she reached out and traced the contour of his cheek with her fingers. 

“Then, will you marry me?”

It didn’t take her a second to answer.  “Marry you?  Of course I will marry you.  Has there ever been any doubt— ”

“No.  I mean here and now.  I don’t want to wait any longer.”

Rachel laughed.  “It is eleven o’clock at night.  Just who do you think will marry us, ‘here and now’?”

A devilish glint entered his dark eyes. “Well, we could go pound on the parish priest’s door and wake him up.”  At her look he amended it.  “Or...we could wait until morning and then arrange to have him come here later in the day.”

Rachel grinned.  “That would be most advisable, Mr. Murray.  It is never wise to irritate an Anglican.  Besides, we should wait on Rebecca and Daniel to arrive.”

“Yes, and on Johnny.  Though,” Mingo added with a sigh, “Isabella is with them.”

“Isabella?”  Rachel frowned.  Then she seemed to remember.  “Ah, the actress....”

“Yes.  I am afraid....  Well, she might make a scene.”  He winced.  “Isabella is good at making scenes.”

She was silent a moment.  Then she asked, “Does she sing?”

Mingo shrugged.  “After a fashion.”

Rachel laughed out loud.  “Then we shall ask her to sing at our wedding, perhaps that will mollify her.  Though I doubt it, since she will be losing you.”  She sobered and concluded by asking, “Will your father give me away, do you think?  Or perhaps Daniel?”

“I am sure either would be happy to oblige,” he said.  “Then it is decided?  We will marry the day after the company arrives?”

“Can it be here?  In this lovely place?”  Rachel glanced at the flowers and fruits blossoming all about them and drew in a breath of the sweet, scented air.  “Would your stepmother mind?”

“I doubt she will ever know.  But no, I don’t think Charlotte would mind.  And I think it is somehow appropriate.”   

“Why is that?” she asked, puzzled.

“Perhaps after this, it will be called ‘Rachel’s’ Folly.”  Mingo took her hands again and pressed them close.  “You could have had any man, noble—royal perhaps—but you have chosen me—a man divided, a man who is without a country or home, and with barely a hope of either.  I have little to offer you other than myself.”

Rachel ran her hand over his chin and then laid it on his heart.  “That is all I desire.  Now, get up off of your knee and kiss me.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

The theatre troupe descended on Stirlingshire Manor the next day just before sunset.  Johnny had met up with them as promised and was at the head of the procession of carriages as they passed through the gate, rolling by the family church and crypt, right up to the front door of the grand house.  Mingo’s younger brother was sitting in the driver’s seat of the front carriage.  Beside him, beaming like a cat with a prize catch, was Isabella; her arm linked in his.  Mingo shook his head as he descended the steps to greet them. 

So much for his trust in her deeply religious nature.

The petite redhead saw him eyeing the two of them and held out a hand to ward him off.  “Now before you go saying something you are about to regret, Mr. Murray, this handsome young gentleman did the inviting,” she said.

One of Mingo’s dark eyebrows arched.  “Indeed.”

His brother looked somewhat chagrinned.  “Well, I thought it only fair to give the Boones some privacy.  After all— ”

“Isabella, you know it is not that I do not appreciate all that you have done for us.  I really....”  Mingo stopped abruptly.  “The Boones?  You mean there is more than one now?”

As he spoke the door to the carriage opened and Rebecca stepped out.  She was somewhat disheveled and looked as if she had just awakened.  Following closely after her was a familiar long, lanky form. 

“Daniel?  What?  How?” Mingo exclaimed.

“None other.”  Dan wrapped his arm about his wife’s shoulders and steadied her.  Then he grinned.  “We had a lot to...talk about.  Rebecca ain’t had a lot of sleep.  Let me get her settled and then I think,” he paused and looked straight at him, “you and I have a lot to talk about.”  

“Dan....”  Rebecca protested as he picked her up and started up the steps. 

“Not a word, Mrs. Boone.”  Dan nodded at him.  “Be back in a minute, Mingo.”

“Take you time, Daniel.  I will wait in the garden-house.”

Dan hesitated at the top of the stairs.  “That the big stone pineapple over there?”

Mingo smiled.  “Yes.”

His friend nodded again and then disappeared into the house.  As Isabella began to follow him, Mingo caught her arm.  “How did Daniel get here?”

“We gave him a lift, darlin’.”

He sighed.  “You know what I mean.”

“He said he found out you were in some sort of danger,” Johnny said, coming to stand abreast them.  “Something about a letter from the Marquis?”

“I see.  That would explain it.  He must have read Rachel’s letter.”  Mingo relaxed a bit.  “He followed us immediately, and the time we spent in France allowed him to catch up.”

“So I take it,” his brother said as he hefted two of Isabella’s multitude of cases under his arms and started up the steps.  “Well, I am off to bed.  Are you coming, Issie?”

The redhead paused dramatically and then grinned broadly.  “With an invitation like that, how could a girl say ‘no’?”

His brother blushed red as a beet as the meaning of his words registered in his tired brain.  Johnny started to make some excuse but Mingo cut him off.  “It’s no use.  Just admit defeat and show her to her room.”  Before Isabella could move he planted a short, fraternal kiss on her forehead.  Then he released her arm.

“And what would that be for?” she asked.

“Just for you being you.”  Mingo laughed.  “I’ve missed you, Isabella.”

She traced his jaw with her fingers and smiled sadly.  “Well, we won’t tell that to the pale doe-eyed, primrose-haired, blue-blooded child, now will we?”  And with one final long lingering look, Isabella turned and followed his younger brother up the stair.

            Mingo watched her go.  He stood lost in thought for a moment and then slowly walked through the French garden to the stone house that lay at its center.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Some time later a voice startled him out of his reverie.

“Mingo?”

            He turned toward his friend and started to rise.  “Daniel.”

            “Don’t get up, Mingo.”  Dan looked up and around as he entered the garden-house.  “Funny.  It looks normal from the inside.”

            “English architecture is certainly a far cry from your cabin or my lodge.  Somehow, here, I think a black bearskin over the door would be considered a faux pas.”

            His friend looked at him sideways.  “A what?”

            Mingo laughed.  “Forgive me, Daniel.  A blunder.”

            “I thought you didn’t know any French.”  Dan ambled over and took a seat on one of the stone benches.  “Seems to me as I remember you askin’ me about what a phrase meant a while back.”

            “Ah, yes.  Well,” Mingo shrugged, “at the time it seemed— ”

            “Kind to let the Kentucky hick think he knew more than you?”
            He frowned.  “Daniel, I have never thought of you in that— ”

            The big man held up his hand to silence him.  His green eyes narrowed.  “Lookin’ at you, Mingo—or should I say Kerr—you look like you belong here.”

            Mingo glanced down at the elegant clothing he wore, and then back up to his friend.  “To tell you the truth, I am not certain where I belong anymore, Daniel.”

            “Yes, you are.”

            His frown deepened.  “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

            “You belong with her.  With Rachel.  With the woman you love.”

            Mingo rose to his feet and began to pace.  “If only it were so simple, Daniel.  I do love Rachel and I want to be with her, but things are so complicated.  My life and hers have grown very far apart.  What I have known she is unacquainted with, and the life she has known has never held any appeal for me.  I— ”

            “Mingo?”

            He stopped and turned toward him.  “Yes?”

            “First of all, sit back down.”  Dan indicated the bench he had left. 

            Mingo did as he was told.  He sat down and looked at his friend.  “What is it?”

            Dan was silent a moment.  Then he shifted and squared his shoulders, and looked him in the eye.  “Mingo, you and I are close, right?”

Mingo nodded.

“You are probably the closest friend I have right now,” Dan continued.  “There’s something between us that goes beyond friendship.  You agree?”

            “Yes,” he agreed.  “We are brothers.”

            “And a brother has to be honest, don’t he?”

            Mingo sighed.  “What are you trying to say, Daniel?”

            “I’ve watched you these last four years.  You’re smart, Mingo.  Brave.  You can be a mite stubborn, but that’s all right.  You’re one heck of a fighter and I wouldn’t want any other man with me in a pinch, but you have one fault.  And it’s a big one.”

“Indeed.  And what is that?”
“You think too much.  Even when a thing is as simple to see as the nose on your

face, you can find a way to overlook it.  I’ve seen it get you into trouble more times than I can count.  Now tell me this, do you love Rachel?”

            “Of course I do.  That’s not the—”

            “Well, then, there’s your answer.”

            Mingo jumped to his feet.  “No, it’s not.  I do not want to live here.  I do not want to be a part of this fickle, false society.  I do not want to be the Earl’s son and play the games that entails.  But I can’t take Rachel back to Kentucky.  She would not be suited to be a farmer’s wife— even if I knew how to farm.  And she is certainly not suited to be the wife of a Cherokee warrior.  I know Miriam has done it, Copperhead has told me that many times.  But Rachel is not Miriam.”  He paused.  “It is not what she wants.  She wants Kerr.”

            Dan met his gaze.  “Mingo, you are Kerr.”

            “No, I am not.”

            “Yes, you are,” he insisted.  “And you are Cara-Mingo.  You’re gonna have to make a life for yourself, and her, that suits the both of you.”

            Mingo hesitated and then sat down again.  “Well, I suppose we could live in one of the cities, somewhere like Philadelphia.  I could manage to find something to do.”

            “Speakin’ of Philadelphia, Mingo.”

            He looked up.  “Yes?”

            “You know what they’re sayin’ you did?  The soldiers and some members of Congress?”

            He frowned.  “Oh, the papers, you mean?  The ones they believe I stole with the intention of delivering them here?  The ones with the General’s signature.”

            “Yep.”

            Mingo felt his stomach tighten.  He had known it was inevitable, still to hear it put into words....  “So I am branded a traitor?”

            Dan’s voice was quiet.  “General Washington wants you to come back to clear yourself.”

“Rachel and I talked about it.  She intends to go back with me.”

            “I understand you are wanted here as well?”  Dan grinned.  “For something other than our little adventures in the Colonies?”

            “Yes.  My father explained it to me only last night.”  He had talked with the older man after seeing Rachel off to bed.  What he had told him had been frightening.  “Do you remember Major Halpen?”

            “Name sounds familiar.”  Dan frowned, then he snapped his fingers.  “That tight-laced British fellow that worked for your father?  The one that held Yad and me and old Chief Tamend captive?”

            Major Halpen had played a major role in his father’s abortive attempt to take the land Boonesborough was situated on for the Crown.  He had been an arrogant man, overly certain of himself, and easily duped.  “That’s him.  It seems you and I did not leave a very good impression on the good major.  Because of his failure to keep you and the chief contained, he was demoted.  Since then he has apparently been working to ruin my father.  He has been collaborating with Oliver Gerard.”

            Dan’s green eyes widened.  “Gerard?  That the same one as— ”

            “John Gerard.  Yes, Oliver is his step-father.  I am sure you remember John as the man who came to Boonesborough with Rachel and Hugh Oldham; the one who almost ruined me four years ago.  Apparently Oliver Gerard is bound and determined to destroy me and all I hold dear in revenge for John’s death.”

            “You sure do know how to turn on the charm, Mingo,” Dan laughed.  Then he sobered.  “So what now?”

            Mingo walked to the door of the garden-house and leaned against the jamb.  “When Rachel is healed we will return to Philadelphia, and I will face the charges there.  Once I am cleared of wrong-doing, we can settle in the city.  Perhaps near Abigail.”

            “She’s a fine woman.”

            “Oh, yes, I forget you would have met her.”  Mingo glanced at him.  “Daniel?”

            The big man rose to his feet and came to his side.  “What s it, Mingo?”

            He looked a bit chagrinned.  “I proposed to Rachel last night.”

            Dan’s brown eyebrows shot towards his bangs.  “You did?”  The big man grinned broadly.  “I wasn’t sure you had it in you.  So you’re finally gonna get hitched.”

            “You seem rather gleeful, Daniel.”

His friend clapped him on the back.  “Just wantin’ to share the joy.  When’s it gonna happen?”

“Tomorrow.”

            That got him.  “Tomorrow?” Dan stammered.  “Ain’t that a mite hasty?”

            “Neither of us want to wait any longer.  Too much time has passed already.  I was about to walk to the priest’s home when you arrived.”  Mingo watched his friend closely.  The tall frontiersman had a strange look on his face.  “Daniel?  What is it?”

            Dan shrugged.  “I guess a promise is a promise.”

            “What do you mean?”

            He looked at him sideways.  “You remember when you left with Rebecca?  You said to me that if you didn’t bring her back safe and sound to Boonesborough, you’d— ”

            “Never set foot there again.”  Mingo finished it for him.  As he did a silence fell between them that lasted for some time.

            Finally Dan shuffled his feet.  He stepped out of the garden-house and looked up at the stars.  Then he turned back to him.  “I guess it just sunk in that you ain’t comin’ back.”

            “I mean to return, to go to Philadelphia....”

            “I know, but you won’t be back.  Not like before.”  The big man ran a hand over his chin.  “You need to go see that parson, and I need to get some rest.  I guess tomorrow’s gonna be a big day.  You told anyone else yet?”

            Mingo nodded.  “My father.  He is to give Rachel away.”

            “I see.”

            “Will you stand with me, Daniel?  And ask Rebecca to stand with Rachel?”

            Dan returned to his side and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “Of course.”  He gave it a squeeze.  “I’m happy for you, Mingo.  Really.  I’ll see you in a few hours.”

            “Sleep well, Daniel.”

            The big man nodded and then began to walk slowly toward the manor.  Mingo watched him for a moment and then started off in the opposite direction, headed for the small house beside the family church where the priest lived.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            As Mingo walked away the figure of a man separated from the shadows cast by the boxed hedge on the west side of the manor house.  The man remained still, watching him for a moment, and then slipped in through the front door, following on the heels of the weary Daniel Boone. 

At the top of the inner stair he paused to get his bearings.  Most manors were laid out in a similar fashion and this one was no exception.  The guests were located in one wing and the family in another.  Making an educated guess, he turned and hastened down the hall toward the wing that faced the rising sun, stepping back only once into the shadows to allow a maid to pass.  He noticed the servant was carrying a woman’s soiled garments.  That confirmed his guess.  Lady Dunsmore and her daughters were not in residence, and so that meant the one he was seeking must be near by.  Neither Rebecca Boone nor the actress or her players should be housed in this end.  Only someone who was thought of as ‘family’. 

Moving with stealth, the man continued down the hall and stopped outside a closed door.  Beyond it a woman’s voice was lifted in an old Scottish Aire.  Moving his coat aside, the man grasped the handle of his pistol and then slowly began to open the door.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Mingo looked up from the china cup he held.  Even though it was late, he had returned to the church to work out a few minor details and the priest and his wife had asked him to join them for some tea before they headed to bed.  Someone outside had just called his name.  “Excuse me a moment,” Mingo said as he rose to his feet and headed for the door.  Just as he reached it his younger brother entered, almost knocking him over.  Johnny was breathless.  He had obviously just tumbled out of bed.  His hair was mussed and he still looked exhausted. 

“Johnny?  What is it?”

            The young man drew a deep breath to steady himself.  Finally he managed to say, “Kerr, you have to come.”

            “Catch your breath, John.  Tell me what has happened.”  Then, a sudden sense of foreboding overcame him.  “Is it Rachel?”

            His brother nodded.  Johnny held out his hand.  In it was a note, scented with rosemary, neroli and bergamot tinged with lemon.  Mingo knew instantly it had come from her desk.  With trembling hands, he unfolded it and read the words written there.

 ‘I have the woman.  If you want to save her you will

come alone to the estate.  You know which one.  Bring

a weapon or anyone with you, and she is dead. 

                                        G. Leighton’      

 

            “Leighton.”  Mingo crumbled the letter in his hand.  When his father had told him about Halpen, he had also explained just who Geoffrey Leighton was.  He looked at his brother.  “Has anyone else seen this?”

            Johnny nodded.  “Father.  The rest are still abed.  It was the maid who found Rachel missing.  This note was pinned to her pillow with a dirk.  Jenny took it to him, and he sent me to find you.”

            Mingo turned to the priest and his wife and excused himself, and then placing his hand on his brother’s shoulder, directed him out of the door.  Once outside he saw Johnny had brought the horse he had bought for him in London. 

Johnny smiled at his expression.  “Father knew you would want to leave right away.”

            “Thank him for me,” Mingo said as he approached the animal.  Then he saw the second one tethered nearby.  “What is this?” he asked.

            “You will have to thank him yourself later.  I am coming with you.  That was Father’s condition for not rousing the whole house and bringing in the law.”

            “Johnny, no.  Leighton could have spies.”  Mingo was adamant. “I can handle this alone, and I can’t take a chance on— ”

            “He could also have an army waiting to subdue you, or the Royal Guard ready to arrest you and hang you for treason.  Or just Oliver Gerard’s ruffians with cudgels.”  His brother shook his head.  “You cannot go alone.”

            “I must.”

            “I’ll trail behind, Kerr.  He doesn’t have to know I am with you.  There is more than one way to the Leighton estate.  We don’t even have to take the same path.”  Johnny’s words were firm.  “We will not chance losing you again.  You or Rachel.”  He paused.  “You know this is a trap.  Set for you.”

            Mingo nodded.  “I do not think he means to kill either Rachel or me, though she is the one in the greatest danger.  This all has to do with Leighton’s brother, John Gerard, and with revenge.  Oliver Gerard is like a fat cat and I am to be his mouse.”

            “All the more reason I must go with you.”  Johnny’s dark eyes were intense.  “You will have to tie me up and leave me in a sack to keep me from coming, big brother, so you may as well count on it and let me in on your plans so I do not trip you up.”    

            Mingo thought about it a moment and then he nodded.  “We can make plans as we ride.  We will have to part when we reach the fork to the Manor.  You must be seen to be headed home.  Later, you can rejoin me.  Agreed?”

            Johnny nodded as the two men mounted their horses.

            “Agreed.”

             

                                                                                                ###             

 

            Rachel woke to the dark.  She blinked and then frowned.  She had tried to sit up, but something stopped her.  Her hands were tied.  And her feet.  And there was something over her eyes.

            And her mouth.

            She struggled against her bonds as memory of the events of the last few hours flooded through her.  She had been preparing to sleep.  Her door had opened and she had assumed it was Kerr with word of what the Anglican Priest had said.  When she had pivoted what she had faced instead was a nightmare out of the past.  For just a moment she had thought John Gerard had returned from the grave to haunt her, but then she had realized it was his older brother, Geoffrey.  She had opened her mouth to scream and everything had gone dark.

            Like it was now.

            The floor beneath her was cold and strewn with bracken.  It cut into her cheek.  She  shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position and, as she did, someone in the room moved.  A second later strong hands caught her upper arms and flipped her over onto her back.  Then the blindfold was removed.

            Rachel gasped.  It was not Leighton as she had expected, but Oliver Gerard.

            “Hello, my dear,” Gerard said, “it’s been a long time.”  As she squirmed to move back from him, he added, his voice dripping with contempt.  “I see you remember me.  Since I was to be your father-in-law, I suppose I should not find that at all surprising.  Still, it seems that once you set eyes on that savage you lost not only your memory, but any distinction between right and wrong, and all remembrance of convention and honor.  But then the savages know nothing of these things.  What should I expect from a woman who would share the bed of one?”

            Rachel tried to control her trembling, but it was hard.  Malice dripped from the man.   Still, her fear was not so much for herself as for Kerr.  She knew he would come after her.

            And that was exactly what this man wanted. 

            She blinked again, looking past him to her surroundings.  Like Gerard himself, she recognized them after a few seconds.  This was the old Leighton estate.  Shortly after John Gerard’s father had been executed by the British for collaboration with the Indians during the Seven Year’s War, it had begun to fall into disrepair.  Even though his eldest son, Geoffrey Leighton, had inherited it, Geoff had neglected it, choosing not to be openly associated with his real father’s checkered past.  It could not be sold since it was land granted by the Crown, and so the grand old estate—with its outbuildings and private zoo, its small church and graveyard—surrendered slowly to the ivy and weeds.  Now, more than a decade later, its ancient walls were crumbling.  Soon they would be one with the wild English landscape.    

            “I see you remember this place.  I am counting on the fact that your savage will as well.”  Gerard knelt beside her.  She glanced up into his eyes.  He was not mad as she had feared; not unhinged as John had become.

            He was simply evil personified.

            Oliver Gerard took her chin in his hands.  “You are quite lovely, my dear.  Excellent bait for the trap.”  He smiled and asked her, “Do you remember what made this place special?  What Leighton kept housed here?”
            Rachel frowned.  Special?  What could he mean?  Then she saw one of the tattered, dust-covered animal trophies on the wall.  Her breath caught and she nodded slowly.  She had named it to herself before.

            “There was a zoo,” she whispered. 

            Gerard nodded.  “Just the place to cage a savage, don’t you think?”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Mingo hesitated before the great gates of the estate.  He had sent Johnny on his way  some miles back and continued on alone.  His brother was taking a more circuitous route, one that would take perhaps an hour more—maybe two—depending on the condition of the roads.  Northern Scotland was always wild and untamed, and often a pass or bridge over a small stream that one had used only the day before, would vanish without warning, washed away by a sudden hard rain.  For Johnny’s sake, he almost hoped such a thing had happened.  His young brother reminded him of himself at an early age.  Johnny was cocky, too sure of himself for the limited experience life had granted him.  The enemy they faced was shrewd; wise with the wisdom evil teaches an apt pupil over the course of a lifetime.  Mingo did not want the young man to be wounded, or worse, killed on his account.  He didn’t want to give one more thing to the Gerards.

            Not Johnny.

Not Rachel.

Especially not Rachel.

            Mingo reined in his horse and dismounted.  There was no need to take it inside the gates.  He tethered it a broken off post and quickly brushed it down.  Then he removed his pistol from beneath his belt with deliberate slowness, in case anyone was watching, and placed it in one of the horse’s saddlebags and walked away. 

He only hoped he and Rachel would return for it soon.

            Drawing a deep breath, Mingo boldly strode through the open gates, proclaiming his arrival.  Leighton was expecting him and if he did not show—if he tried instead to sneak in and free Rachel—he was afraid of what the man might do.  And the Leighton estate was mammoth.  There was no knowing where she might be.  He had visited this place with John Gerard during his time at Oxford, when they had been friends.  John had told him it belonged to his brother.  It had not seemed an odd thing to him at the time.  Many inherited property when very young.

England had fought many wars. 

            Mingo walked up the main path and halted before the manor door.  The old place was covered with ivy, and its yard and the path that crossed it, littered with debris.  The locals had come to know it was deserted and many of the poor had come to steal what was most valuable to them, not trinkets or Chinese vases, but stone and wooden beams.  A good part of the manor was actually open to the sky.  Birds wheeled in and out of its ravaged windows.  Perhaps a half dozen still had glass and of those, only one or two remained intact.  Behind the wreck of the once grand house, the dawning rays of the morning were kissing the sky, painting it a fiery red.

            Mingo’s head came up.  The door was opening.  He took a few steps forward and then stopped.  It was not Leighton as he had expected, but an older man.  One he recognized a second later as Oliver Gerard.

            “You killed my son,” Gerard said without preamble.

            Mingo shook his head.  “Actually I did not.  He was attempting to kill me, and my friend, Arrowkeeper, put a knife in his back.”

            “Arrowkeeper?”  Gerard took a step forward.  “Arrowkeeper....”  He rolled the name around on his tongue.  Then he snapped his fingers.  “Ah, yes, one of the savages you stole from me.”

            “You cannot ‘steal’ a human being.  I freed them.”

            The older man laughed.  “You are right.  You cannot ‘steal’ a human being.  But then, they were not human after all.  They were savages.”  Gerard descended the steps and came to rest only a few feet from him.  Mingo could see his eyes.  There was a hard spark in them, like the kind created by metal striking flint.  “Just like you.”

            Mingo bristled.  He knew he was being bated, but found it hard to hold his tongue.  “There might be some debate about who and what is ‘human’.  I remember the cage you had them in.  The filth and decay.  The rampant disease.  You are a slaver, Gerard, plain and simple.  And a murderer.  Natives died in those cages.  If anyone deserves the label, ‘savage’, Gerard, it is you.”

            Oliver Gerard stared at him for a moment.  Then he laughed.  “True to form.  Your father gives such eloquent speeches.  Men are swayed by them.  I am not.  There is nothing so despicable as a man who does not know who he is.”

            “There is nothing so despicable as a man whose life is predicated on making money off the suffering of innocents,” Mingo retorted.  “I felt sorry for John.  He could have been a good man.  If not for your evil influence.”

            Gerard’s graying eyebrows peaked.  “You have an odd way of pleading with your captor, savage.  You might try flattering me.”

            Mingo stiffened.  Several armed men had emerged from the wild untamed hedge that lined the sides of the weed-shot path.  One of them pointed a flintlock at his head.

            And grinned.

            Gerard snapped his fingers.  “Marlowe, escort the Earl’s son to the accommodations we have prepared for him.  And make certain he doesn’t take a misstep along the way.  We wouldn’t want the Earl complaining of our treatment of his half-breed bastard.” 

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Rachel tried to speak, but all that came out were strangled sounds.  With her great blue eyes she pleaded, begging her captor to remove her gag.  Leighton had come to take Gerard’s place and was standing, staring out the window.  Now he turned toward her.  After studying her a moment, he crossed to her, knelt, and did as she asked.

            “Geoff,” she gasped as the cloth came away, “don’t do this.”

            The eyes that were so like John Gerard’s stared at her, unwavering.  “And what is it you think I am doing?”

            “I don’t think you want to hurt me.  I think I am only here as bait for Kerr.  You want revenge.  For John.”

            There was an odd light in his eyes.  “And didn’t you hurt John as well?  Didn’t you desert him?  Didn’t you betray him for that Indian?”

            Rachel stiffened, afraid for herself for the first time.  “He was evil, Geoff.  You don’t have to be.”

            “Don’t I?”  Geoffrey Leighton laughed.  He stood and opened his arms wide.  “It seems it is all I have to inherit.  Look at this place.  See what the Leightons have come to?  We are all crumbling into decay.”  He glanced back out the window.  “Because of you and that savage.”

            “Because of Oliver Gerard.  He twisted John’s mind.”  Rachel took a breath, steadying herself.  “I did think I could love John once, but he changed.  As you have changed.  Geoff, don’t let this man ruin you.”

            Leighton remained still for a moment.  Then he returned to her side and knelt once again.  “I will tell you who has ruined me, that savage of yours.  His kind killed my father.  He killed my brother.  He ruined the life I was meant to have.  Oliver was found out, you know, because of what your ‘Kerr’ did.  Oh, he survived.  Oliver had money enough to pay to keep closed the mouths that knew the truth.  But the business suffered.  He suffered.  I suffered.”  Leighton shook his head.  “Lord Dunsmore made certain of that.”

            “Lord Dunsmore?” she asked.

            “He made certain John was blamed for the death of the custodian at the theatre.  Our father’s money saved his life, but it cost him dear.  We lost the outlying estates.  We lost our place in society.  Your savage lost nothing.”  Leighton rose to his feet again.  “Until now.”

            “You are behind it then?  The charges here, and in America?”

            He looked at her and smiled.  “An education in the law is a fine thing.  Oliver made certain I had that.  He made certain I had, as well, an education in life.  Yes, I am behind it.  Your savage will not dare set foot in the Colonies again.  Nor in England.”

            Rachel held her breath.  ‘Dare set foot’?  It sounded as if they did not mean to kill Kerr.  “What are you going to do to him?”

            Leighton laughed.  “Wouldn’t you like to know”?

            She was silent a moment.  “Then can you tell me what you mean to do with me?”

            Leighton crossed slowly to her.  He dropped to his knees and took her pointed chin in his hand.  “You have already done it yourself.  You are ruined.  You are a spy and will be treated as such.”  He thrust her head back with savage fury as he stood.  “You and that old man who has befriended you.  Dunsmore.”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            A soft rain had begun to fall steadily, soaking the dry ground of the ancient decaying estate.  Mingo looked up through dark wet locks, past the rough iron bars, to the man who held the whip.  What he had done to him had left his elegant suit in tatters.  They had beat him first and then stripped the coat from him and used the animal keeper’s whip to tear the flesh on his back and sides.  He was caged now, like an animal, in one of the pens the Leighton’s had on the estate.  Over the course of several decades it had housed lions and cheetahs and other exotic animals.

            Now it had become his prison, if not his tomb.

            Oliver Gerard had disappeared for the moment.  Mingo feared for Rachel.  He had hoped she was simply being used as bait, but from what Gerard had said as he towered over him, he thought now they intended to destroy her as well.  And if the whim took the evil man, he might even kill her just to watch his reaction.  Mingo gripped the bars and hauled himself up.  He leaned his cheek against the cold metal and pulled himself to his knees.  He had to find some way to escape.  Some way to get to her. 

Some way to save the woman he loved.

            Blinking back the water that trailed off his bangs, Mingo lifted his eyes and glanced out into the night.  The other men had gone with Gerard.  Only the one who had whipped him remained.  The man glanced at him and then turned his back on him as if knowing he offered no threat.  Mingo tried to stand, but fell back with the effort.  As he did, his gaze shifted from the man to the shadows at the edge of the trees.

            And he saw his brother John. 

            Mingo’s fingers tightened on the bars.  His brother was moving stealthily toward Gerard’s man.  He did not think Johnny had noticed him yet.  After all, why would he look for his brother in an animal’s cage?  Helpless, he watched as Johnny paused behind a tumbled portion of the stone fence that surrounded the small zoo.  Something glinted in his brother’s hand and he realized it was a knife.  Johnny knew, as he did, that a blast from a flintlock would draw the attention of anyone else on the estate. 

            If he could have stopped him, he would have.  But he knew he could not.  And so Mingo watched, transfixed, as his brother rose up behind Gerard’s man. 

            And dropped him without a sound.

            His brother knelt and took the man’s weapons.  Then he bound the brigand’s hands and feet and dragged him behind the wall.  A moment later Johnny reappeared and turned toward the main house.  Mingo wasn’t certain he could make a noise loud enough to attract his attention without giving his presence away.  Still, he had to try.  He gripped the bars again and dragged his body up until he was standing.  Then, just as he opened his mouth, his brother saw him.

            And went pale as a ghost.

            Johnny glanced from side to side and then ran to him.  “By all that is holy, Kerr!  Dear God, man, what have they done to you?”  He took hold of the iron door and rattled it.  “We have to get you out of here.”

            Mingo shook his head.  “No.  John, leave me.  They don’t intend to kill me.  Gerard wants to hurt me, to humiliate and destroy me, but death would be too easy.  It is Rachel I fear for.  Go find her, Johnny.  Go.  Now!”

            His brother stared at him.  Johnny’s eyes took in the cage and its condition.  Finally they settled on the fresh wounds on his arms and back.  “No.”

            Mingo reached out and caught his sleeve.  “You must.  I can take care of myself.  Rachel needs you.  She must be with Leighton, and perhaps Gerard himself by now.  Johnny, I can’t take care of her.  I need you to do it for me!”

            Johnny’s face was troubled.  “If anything happens to you— ”

            “If anything happens to her, it will not matter what happens to me!”

            His brother hesitated, and then nodded.  Johnny removed something from behind his belt.  Then he reached through the bars and handed it to him.  It was a flintlock pistol.  The one he had taken from Gerard’s man.  “Perhaps this will help to make certain nothing does happen to you, brother.”

            Mingo accepted it with a sigh of relief.  “Go.  John.  Go!”

            Johnny nodded.  We’ll be back.  Rachel and I ”, he said softly, and was gone.

 

                                                                                                ###

            Almost before his brother had time to disappear into the shadows, Oliver Gerard reappeared with three of his henchmen at his heels.  Mingo quickly hid the flintlock pistol under the leaves and refuse in the cage, close by his knee. 

            Gerard was yelling for the man with the whip.  “Marlowe!  Marlowe?”  He turned to one of the others with him and indicated with a nod that they should seek out the missing man.  “Find where Marlowe’s disappeared to.  Perhaps he saw or heard something.”  With that Gerard left the other two standing near the broken fence and returned to gloat over him.

            Mingo’s finger itched for the trigger of the pistol, but he knew Leighton’s continued absence meant he must be holding Rachel and he dare not use it for fear Leighton would hear and then harm her.  He would have to know that Johnny had her safely away before he could take action.  Resisting the urge to place either his hand or knee on the weapon, just to reassure himself that it was there, Mingo stood and faced the other man. 

            Gerard was watching him, a finger on his chin.  “This Indian, Arrowkeeper, what happened to him?”

            Mingo frowned.  “Why?”

            “Satisfy my curiosity.”

            “He is well.  With his people.”

            Gerard nodded.  “And the other one?  The older man?”

            Mingo’s fingers tightened on the bars.  It seemed a blasphemy for Gerard to even mention Star.  “Dead.”  His voice choked.  “But not from what you did to him.”

            “A pity.”  At Mingo’s expression, Oliver Gerard laughed aloud.  “Oh, not that the one is dead.  But that the other one is alive.  Though I suppose, I could go to America and reclaim him.  After all, he is still my property.”  He drew near the bars as if taunting him to reach out.  “I guess you will simply have to take the old man’s place in my current show.  I believe the company is in Spain right now; the bears, the tigers...and the savages I own.”

            Mingo studied Gerard’s face. 

The man was serious. 

So that was it.  That was what Oliver Gerard intended for him; to display him, to use him as he had used Arrowkeeper and Star all those years ago.  He would send him so far away no one would ever be able to find him, and keep him chained and watched so he could not escape. 

Four walls and an iron door. 

He had told Daniel long before that that was not for him and he had meant it.  Before he would surrender to a cage, he would use the gun Johnny had given him on himself.

“You’re very silent, savage.  Perhaps you are plotting your escape—or my demise.”  Gerard’s vile grin broadened as he leaned closer and lowered his voice to almost a whisper.  “You see those men behind me?”

Mingo glanced at the two.  They were large brutes, ill-suited to wear the fine clothing their master had them in.  One was tall, with dark hair and eyes and a singular scar running from his nose across one cheek.  The other was small and gray as a weasel.  “Yes.”

“Their names are Morley and Symmes.  They have been paid well.  And in accounts which cannot be traced there is even more money in their names.  More money than any of them have ever dreamed of.  It is theirs whether I live or die—on one condition.  That they can prove you are dead or imprisoned for life.”

“You hate me that much?” Mingo was stunned.

“More.  All that I owned.  All that Geoffrey inherited with the exception of this decaying estate.  All has been liquidated.  I have kept the house in London.  That is all.”  Gerard straightened up and spoke in a normal tone.  “Life is good.  And if death should come unexpectedly...I will still have the pleasure of knowing that while I roast in Hell, I have made your life on this earth a living shadow of that reality.”

The man Gerard had sent to hunt Marlowe had returned and exchanged places with one of the others who moved off toward the trees beyond.  When Gerard beckoned, he came to his side and whispered in his ear.  As the two of them turned away to talk, Mingo a curious thing happened.  Gerard’s remaining henchman jerked and his hands flew to his throat.  Then he fell back into the bushes and disappeared. 

That left only Gerard and a single henchman.

Mingo tried, without really looking, to see who it was had replaced the man near the stone wall.  The figure was little more than a dark blur in the mist left by the passing of the rain.  He had to assume it was Johnny and that Rachel was with him or well-hidden somewhere close by. 

After all, who else could it be?

As the henchman nodded and headed back toward the man he took to be his compatriot, Oliver Gerard turned back toward him.  Mingo dropped to his knees, as if overpowered by fatigue, and placed his hand on the weapon hidden beneath the leaves.

 

                                                                                    ###

 

His hatred almost overpowered her.  As Rachel stared at Geoffrey Leighton she wondered what could have been in his background—his and John’s—that allowed them to be so easily corrupted by a man like Oliver Gerard.  Perhaps it was greed, or a need to control others as they had not been able to control their own destinies. 

“Geoff, tell me where Kerr is,” she said softly.

“So you think he is here?” Leighton asked.

“I saw you watching out the window.  I assume he has come at your, or Oliver’s request.  As I assume I am the bait for a trap.”

“Not only pretty, but smart too.  No wonder you were able to so easily pull the wool over my brother, John’s, eyes.”

“John blinded himself, as you have, Geoff.  He needed no help from me.  Now where is Kerr?”

“ ‘Kerr’ does not exist.  I believe his name is ‘Cara-Mingo’ and the filthy savage is in one of the animal cages where he belongs, and there he will stay until my father makes use of him.”

“Use?”

Leighton smiled.  “I hear he can be very entertaining.  My man in the Marquis’s house told me he sings and dances well.  Perhaps they will throw him scraps when he is through.”

Rachel knew about Oliver Gerard’s clandestine dealings in slaves and in the abhorrent sort of entertainment fashionable on the Continent.  “No.  You would not— ”

“Yes, we would.  After all, it is where he—and his kind—belong.”

Rachel blinked back tears and gazed at the window, thinking of Kerr alone and in an animal’s cage.  As she looked, a shadow passed by.  On the inside.  Concealing her surprise quickly, she continued to talk to him.  “You hate Indians because your father loved one and chose her over your mother and you.  Just like John.”

“I hate Indians who do not know their place.  And white men—or women—who breed with them.”

“And what is their place, Geoff?”

He laughed.  “Well. Oliver would say it is ‘six feet beneath the earth’.  I am not so harsh.  There are men in your country who know how to deal with them; herd them like animals until they are one place, and then leave them there to do as they will.  Just so long as they do not try to escape, or act like their betters.”

Rachel’s eyes searched the darkness.  There had been no other movement.  At least none she had noticed.  “You have been in America?”

“Yes.  And I will be there again, until I am certain of the downfall of the one you call ‘Kerr’.” 

Then she saw it.  The shadow was just behind him.  Leighton must have sensed it.  He was starting to turn around.  “Geoff!” she cried sharply.

He frowned as he turned back.  “What?  What is it?”

Rachel smiled.  “Only what you deserve.”

The handle of Johnny’s pistol caught Geoffrey Leighton on the side of his head and he dropped like sack of stones to the floor.  Johnny rushed past him and bent over her.  “Rachel, are you all right?”

“I am fine.”  She held her hands out for him to untie.  “Have you seen Kerr?  Is he all right?  Do they really have him in a cage?”

Johnny nodded.  “Yes.  We will have him free before long.”

A sudden noise brought both their heads up and they turned as one toward the window.  Rachel’s pale skin went white.  “John!” she exclaimed.  “That was— ”      

“A shot.  I left a weapon with Kerr.  He must have used it.  Rachel, we need to— ”  He stopped.  She had taken hold of his arm.  “Rachel?”

She nodded toward the spot on the floor where Geoffrey Leighton had fallen.

He was gone.

 

                                                                            ###

Mingo was on the floor of the cage.  He had been blown there when the pistol his brother had handed him misfired and blew apart.  He could feel the sting of the black powder on his hand and cheeks, and in his eyes.  For the moment, he was blind.  He lifted his burnt hand and attempted to strike the tears away, but new ones formed as quickly as the old were vanquished.  Through this veil he saw the stout figure of Oliver Gerard approaching.  Apparently after his failed attempt, Gerard had noticed that his men were missing.  That meant he also knew his time had run out.  It meant someone else was on the estate.

Someone who had come to rescue them.

Mingo swallowed as Gerard stepped up to the cage and thrust an ornate gilded flintlock through the bars. 

It seemed his time was running out as well.

“Filthy savage,” Gerard growled.  “I should have liked to have had the pleasure of seeing you on the stage, of breaking you, and having you plead on your knees for me to do what I am about to do now.”  He cocked the hammer of his weapon and aimed it at Mingo’s head.  “Goodbye, animal.”

The weapon fired and Mingo tensed.  But nothing hit him.  He blinked again and wiped his eyes with the back of a filthy arm.  Oliver Gerard was standing perfectly still, a startled expression on his corpulent face.  The flintlock was dangling from his fingers.  He opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was blood.

A second later he pitched over onto the ground and lay still.

Behind him, in the mist, stood another figure.  Too tall for Johnny.  Mingo couldn’t see well enough to tell who it was.  “Daniel?” he asked wearily.

The man outside the cage knelt down and removed a ring of keys from Gerard’s fat waist.  He tried a few before he succeeded in opening the door.  A moment later he knelt by his side and placed his hand on his shoulder.  “Dear Lord,” he whispered, “Kerr....”

Mingo drew in a sharp breath.  “Father?”

Lord Dunsmore took him in his arms and pulled him into a tight embrace.  “I thought I had lost you forever, my son.”

 

                                                                                            ###

 

Mingo winced. 

Not from the powder-burns on his cheeks or the lingering pain in his eyes, not even from the too-tight fit of the heavy-weighted garments he wore over the bandaged wounds on his back and side, but from Isabella’s singing.  He glanced at Daniel where he waited patiently beside him, the expression of a saint under fire plastered on his pleasant face, and laughed.

That hurt too.

Daniel reached out and touched his arm and he looked up.  Rebecca was coming down the path from the manor and behind her, accompanied by his father and perfectly stunning in her heliotrope gown, was Rachel.  Rebecca caught his eye as she entered the garden-house.  She glanced back at Isabella and then rolled hers.  Mingo had to admit it was one of the more interesting renditions of a Pious Angelicus he had ever heard.  To the left of Isabella was a chorus of the other actors and mercifully they lifted their voices in four-part harmony, drowning out her rich if somewhat off-key contralto.  To Isabella’s right was his brother, and from the smitten look on Johnny’s face, Mingo feared the worst.  If not marriage, then his brother was headed at the very least for trouble, as he tried to please and satisfy the tempestuous and demanding Irishwoman. 

The rains of the last week, as they so often did in the Highlands, had ushered in a glorious period of warm weather and brilliant sunshine.  It was early fall and, for once, he had nothing on his mind but the petite blond woman who was approaching him, her armed linked with that of his father.  The older man smiled as he delivered her to the doorstep of the garden house and then leaned close to whisper in his ear. 

“So it seems I will have those grandchildren while I am yet young enough to run after them,” Lord Dunsmore grinned as he straightened up. 

Mingo laughed and Rachel blushed as she looked up at him.

He fell silent instantly. 

She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

She was wearing her hair in the current fashion, not frizzed and powdered or overdone, but caught up in a chignon with loose curls surrounding her forehead.  There were white blossoms and ivy in her hair.  His father had leant her a strand of black pearls which had belonged to his grandmother, from which a single brilliant diamond descended to hang on her exposed white skin.  The sunlight struck her pale blond hair and played with the folds of her silk dress, the color of which was blue and purple and pink all at one and the same time. 

She looked like a queen.   

Together they turned toward the parish priest.  The man smiled broadly at them as he took the took the cord and bound their hands together and began to speak.  His father had spoken to the old man.  He knew how close they had come to not being here.  It was a week to the day that they had planned to marry.

It had taken Mingo that long to recover.  And for him to ring slow permission from the woman at his side to rise from his sick bed. 

His father had entered the animal’s cage to find him lying, blind and broken on the refuse-littered ground.  He had actually picked him up and carried him from that awful place.  Mingo still didn’t know how.  His father had placed him then on the wet earth with his head against the bars and, after ascertaining that he was not mortally wounded, had gone in search of Rachel and his other son.  She and Johnny had met him as he passed the stone wall.  After that everything became a blur.  Rachel crying.  Fussing over him.  Johnny’s face wearing a frown.  Pain as someone touched the welts and bloody trails left by the whip.  His father bringing his horse.  More pain.

The next thing he knew he had been in his bed at the manor, with Rachel by his side.

And now he was here.

At their journeys’ end.

One hour later they were man and wife.

 

                                                                                ###

 

“Kerr?”

Mingo’s eyes opened.  He turned toward the source of the voice.  Rachel was lying in the bed beside him, leaning her chin on her hand, studying him.  One bare foot twisted in the air behind her.  He blinked.  “Rachel?”

“You were expecting maybe someone else?”

Mingo blinked again.  Now he remembered where he was.  And what night it was.  He leaned his head back on the pillow and sighed.  Then he looked at her sideways, chagrinned.  “Did I fall asleep?” he asked.

Rachel nodded.   The edge of her plump upper lip quirked.  “Yes.”

“I don’t know how.  Rachel, I am so sorry.”  He reached toward her.  “This is your wedding night.”

“And yours,” she reminded him

“I do not know how to apologize— ”

She reached out then and placed a single finger on his lips.  “Shh...  It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does,” he insisted.  “It is our wedding night.”

Rachel shook her head.  “It only matters to the young and foolish.”  She moved toward him and placed her arms about his chest, careful to avoid the wounds only freshly healed.  Then she pressed her cheek against his shoulder. “We have forever now, in this world and the next, to be together.”  She rose up above him and looked into his eyes.  “You know the Doctor said you should not even be out of your bed yet, let alone marrying me.”

Mingo reached up and placed his hand alongside her face.  For some time he stared into her wide blue eyes.  Finally one black eyebrow arched and a smile lit his face.  “I have never been known as one who took orders well.  And now is certainly not the time to start.”

Rachel laughed as he reached up and caught her chin and kissed her passionately on the mouth.

 

                                                                                ###

 

The next evening came at the end of a hard day filled with many partings.  Even though Oliver Gerard was dead, Geoffrey Leighton was on the loose, and true to his word Gerard’s men were already on his and Rachel’s trail.  His father’s men caught two brigands on the property, carrying loaded pistols and a warrant for his arrest.

The time had come to move on.

That day Daniel and Rebecca had come to him to tell him it was time for them to go.  They needed to return to the fort, their home, and their son.  In all, Rebecca had been away more than three months.  She despaired that she would not even recognize Israel when she got home, he would have grown so, and she burst into tears when Daniel reminded her of the promise she had made their son.  At home, on the wooden table in the middle of the cabin, Israel’s birthday present remained unopened, awaiting her return.

After Rebecca had left to pack their bags, Mingo had turned to Daniel.  There had been a prolonged moment of silence and then they had embraced.  The tall frontiersman had fought tears, as did he, and then both of them had let them flow.  The last words he had exchanged with his old friend were the hardest.

“Daniel.  You know how it has to be.”

“Yep.  I thought it might end this way.  You ain’t comin’ back to Philadelphia.  You ain’t comin’ back at all.”

“I can’t.  Not with Rachel.  There is too much danger of being recognized.”

Daniel had nodded and then asked, “What do I tell the people at home, in Boonesborough?”

“The only thing you can.  That you did not find me.  Or that when you did, you found me dead.”

Daniel had shaken his head, long and slow.  “I ain’t a man to lie, Mingo....”

He had stopped him with a hand on his arm. “It is not a lie, Daniel.  Mingo is dead.  I am Kerr now.  And Kerr I will be until the end of my days.”

He had bid Daniel and Rebecca farewell that afternoon.  So far as he knew, he would never see them again.

And then had come the hardest parting of all.

The one with his father.

Mingo had entered the house near dusk.  Rachel was gathering their belongings.  He had had her send a letter by fast courier the day they brought him back to the estate, beaten and feverish.  It had gone to the Marquis.  The letter sent in return, written in Adrienne Du Montier’s flowing script, said they were welcome to stay as long as they needed. 

He had no idea how long that might be.

Entering his father’s study he had found the older man standing before the window, staring out, his hands clasped together behind his back.  On his desk was an unopened letter with the King’s Royal seal.  Without turning his father said softly, “So it seems I will not get to run after those grandchildren after all.”

Mingo advanced toward him.  He took up the letter.  “You have not opened it.”

“Ah, but I know what is inside.”

“The assignment to Jamaica?” he asked.  “It has come?”

Lord Dunsmore nodded.  “I suppose the Crown feels it might be best to have me elsewhere for a while, until this flap over my policies in the Colonies—as well as this wretched business with Gerard quiets down.”

“I am sorry, Father.”

The older man turned and pinned him with his stern gaze.  One gray eyebrow arched.  “Sorry?”

“For the trouble I have brought you.  Sometimes you must wonder if it was worth it—that short time with my mother.”

His father moved around the table and faced him.  “Is that what you think, Cara-Mingo?  Truly?”

He smiled at his father’s use of his Cherokee name.  “Kerr.  It is Kerr now, Father, as you always desired.”

Lord Dunsmore was silent a moment.  Then he shook his head.  He anchored his hip on the desk and leaned his weight on it as though weary.  Then he looked at his laced fingers instead of him.  When he spoke, his voice was soft.  Vulnerable. 

Real.

“When I saw you in that cage at the Leighton estate, it reminded me of something I had forgotten.”  The older man glanced up at him.  “You were just a little boy....”

“Yes?” Mingo prompted.

Lord Dunsmore shifted uncomfortably, as if becoming personal was harder for him than commanding armies and jousting with the King and the Parliament combined.  “When I returned to the Colonies after my time here in Scotland spent attending to my dying Father’s affairs, I arranged to return to Kentucky to see your mother.  I was met by Menewa with the news that she had died.  And that she had told him to seek me out.  That she had wanted me to take you back to England to be raised as my son.”  His father stood and walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside and looked out.  “It was a mistake.  I knew it.  Menewa knew it.  Only Talota did not seem to understand.”

“What?”  Mingo was astonished.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “A mistake?” 

Dunsmore smiled.  “She was a persuasive woman, your mother.  As with Menewa she had made me swear an oath that if anything happened to her, I would take you to live with me; an heir to property, a soldier, an Englishman.  All of which you were not.”

“You tried your best to turn me into all those things,” Mingo snapped, a little of the old anger returning.

“Yes, for your sake.  So you could fit in where you were never meant to fit in.  You were a child of the forest.  Free.  Unburdened by expectations.  By,” Lord Dunsmore paused and a wry smile lit his face, “the ‘heritage of centuries’.”

“What are you saying?”

His father came to stand before him.  He placed his hands on his shoulders and looked into his eyes.  “When I stood at the graveside of your mother and Menewa led you to me, I knew I was taking a child who was meant to run free and placing him in a cage.”  His voice broke on the last word.  “At least, before I passed from this earth, I was able to make amends for that sin.  I was able to set you free from another one.”

Mingo didn’t know what to say.  He shook his head.  “Father....”

Lord Dunsmore squeezed his shoulder.  “If you should ever have a son, I pray you will never have to make such a choice.  Or live through such a day.”

“If I should ever have a son,” Mingo said softly, “I will hope that the heritage of centuries that made such a man as you, will be carried on in his blood.”

His father froze.  Then he nodded as tears entered his eyes.

And they parted.

 

                                                                                    ###

            Early the next morning he and Rachel slipped out without telling any of the others and made their way to France.

 

 

            - Continued in Chapter Thirteen -